We’re continuing back onto the recaps of our Midwest Road Trip this week. Even though we can’t be out in the parks right now, we know that at some point we’ll be enjoying the parks again soon. And when we do we hope it will include adding a stop to Fort Smith National Historic Site to your travel plans.
All About Fort Smith National Historic Site
Location: Fort Smith, Arkansas
Park Website: https://www.nps.gov/fosm/index.htm
Fort Smith National Historic Site was established in 1961 to preserve the remaining historic buildings of Fort Smith. Established in 1817, the fort served as the location for several key points in history, including the Trail of Tears and the federal courthouse serving much of the West in the late 1800s.
Today the park sits on 75 acres of downtown Fort Smith, Arkansas on the banks of the Arkansas River.
What to See at Fort Smith National Historic Site
The Visitor’s Center
The visitor center at Fort Smith will be the first building you see as you approach the park sign and entrance. Stop here to pick up your park passport stamps, talk with a ranger about any upcoming programs, and pick up a unigrid. Be sure to check out the exhibits upstairs and downstairs as well.
Take a ranger-led tour.
At all national park fort sites, we highly recommend taking the guided ranger-led tour of the grounds and buildings. After all, who doesn’t love an afternoon with a park ranger? Tours of the grounds leave the visitor’s center multiple times per day.
Hike to the first Fort Smith location.
As mentioned above, the current building on the grounds of Fort Smith National Historic Site is not located on the grounds of the original fort. The remnants of the original fort can be found a short distance from the parking area along the Arkansas River. Walk the trail and see the location chosen by Major Stephen H. Long when the fort was established on December 25, 1817.
Sit in the Federal Courthouse.
One of the highlights of the exhibits at Fort Smith is stepping into the replica courtroom of Judge Isaac C. Parker who presided at the federal courthouse located at Fort Smith from 1872 to 1896. Parker became well-known as the ‘Hangin’ Judge’ for sentencing more than 160 people to death on the Fort Smith gallows. Visitors can see a replica gallows on the grounds near the visitor’s center.
Visit the “Hell on the Border” Jail.
In 1885, Anna Dawes visited Fort Smith on a tour of the West with her father, then a United States Senator. Ms. Dawes was shocked to see the living conditions of inmates at the federal jail located in the basement of the Fort Smith courthouse. Writing in an article back east, she called the Fort Smith jail “a Hell upon Earth.” In part, her advocacy led to the construction of a new jail in 1887.
More #Parkchasing Tips
- Spend some time in the Fort Smith area. The area near the National Historic Site is full of unique shops and restaurants to add to the experience of your visit. If you have time, plan to spend some time wandering the area and riding the historic streetcar line.
- Add it to a #parkchasing road trip. If you have additional time, there are several National Park units near Fort Smith National Historic Site. Add this unit on to a longer national park road trip throughout the Midwest!